Health & safety law changes: how the self-employed are affected. Image of health and safety handbook

Legislation called the Deregulation Act became law on 1st October 2015, impacting the health and safety obligations of self-employed workers and contractors.

The previous Health and Safety at Work Act imposed a general duty on all self-employed people to protect themselves and others from risk to their health and safety, regardless of the type of activity the self-employed person undertook and the risks this created.

The government changed the law so that only self-employed people who conduct certain work (or who have employees) have a duty under Health and Safety Laws to protect themselves and others from risk to health and safety. The government believed that by exempting those self-employed people from health and safety duties, who work in low-risk occupations, that represent no risk to other people, they’d “free around one million people from red tape without impacting on health and safety outcomes”.

The Institute of Occupational Safety and Health lobbied against the bill, because of concerns that the exemption could lead to confusion, a decline in standards and an increase in the risk of injury or illness at work. The TUC also opposed the bill, as did Unite.

The Deregulation Bill exempts the self-employed from health and safety laws/obligations if they have no employees, unless they undertake ‘prescribed activities’, which include work with or on:

  • Agriculture
  • Asbestos
  • Construction (on a construction site or any work in relation to a project carried out by a designer, client, contractor)
  • Gas (any activity to which the Gas Safety Regulations 1998 apply)
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Railways
  • Any other activity that may pose a risk to the health and safety of another person (other than the self-employed person carrying the work out or their employees). For example, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website highlights that a hairdresser who uses chemicals would be a ‘prescribed’ activity, so they have duties under health and safety laws.

The ‘explanatory note’ in the legislation says that: “Section 3 (2) of The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was amended by the Deregulation Act 2015 to limit the scope of the general duty under the section. Only those self-employed persons who conduct undertakings of a prescribed description will have an obligation to conduct their undertaking in such a way as to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, they themselves and other persons who may be affected thereby are not exposed to risks to their health and safety”.

Therefore, self-employed persons (unless you work in prescribed activities, or have employees – if you're self-employed but have employees you still have a duty in respect of these employees’ health and safety) no longer need to:

  • Provide (or ensure there is provided) their own first-aid equipment (to enable them to render first aid to themselves while at work) or provide relevant personal protective equipment
  • Operate within Manual Handling Regulations – the original regulations stated: “Any duty imposed by these regulations on an employer in respect of his employees shall also be imposed on a self-employed person in respect of himself”. This will no longer apply
  • Operate within the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations; the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (the original regulations say that “The requirements imposed by these Regulations on an employer shall also apply to a self-employed person, in respect of lifting equipment he uses at work” – this will no longer apply)
  • Operate within the Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations – the original regulations say that “Every self-employed person shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of:
  • The risks to his own health and safety to which he is exposed whilst he is at work; and
  • The risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct by him of his undertaking” – this will no longer apply
  • Operate with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH); Work at Height Regulations; Control of Vibration at Work Regulations; Control of Noise at Work Regulations.
  • Operate within the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). The original regulations say “In these Regulations, the 'responsible person' is:
  • In relation to an injury, death or dangerous occurrence reportable under regulation 4, 5, 6 or 7 or recordable under regulation 12(1)(b) involving:
  • An employee, that employee’s employer; or
  • A person not at work or a self-employed person, or in relation to any other dangerous occurrence, the person who by means of their carrying on any undertaking was in control of the premises where the reportable or recordable incident happened, at the time it happened; or
  • In relation to a diagnosis reportable under regulation 8, 9 or 10 in respect of:
  • An employee, that employee’s employer; or
  • A self-employed person, that self-employed person”.

Self-employed workers are exempt from reporting under the RIDDOR legislation.

The Health and Safety Executive website now has a section for self-employed workers with guidance on factors to take into account when making a judgement whether the law applies to you or not.

Good luck!

If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to Lesley at The HR Kiosk  – a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – our fees are low to reflect the pressures on small businesses and you can hire us for as much time as you need.

Please note that the advice given on this website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.

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Lesley Furber
HR Consultant
Updated on
February 21, 2020

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